Monday, 15 February 2010

My last meal.

So I was over here, and I got to thinking about what my last meal would be. I thought it would be tough as there are many foods I adore, from the elaborate to the simple (peanut butter on toast came a very close second, and might still make it in the running for dessert!).

However, in the end the result was obvious. It would have to be aubergine parmigiana, (melanzana parmigiana to give it the correct title) and would have to be accompanied with handm
ade focaccia.This is not only the meal I would pick as my potential last ever, it also happened to be the one I decided to cook for Valentine's day. We're not that big on Valentine's day. There are no grand gestures, no expensive gifts, and certainly no trips to fancy restaurants. Instead we're low key, low budget and low maintenance. In a very cliched way we are a couple who celebrate our love for each other with random and constant acts (K, I can hear you vomiting....) and it has to be said that much of this occurs through the medium of food, not unlike other couples I know.

So as the weekend rushed forth I toyed with all sorts of ideas for main dishes. As you may (or may not) know I have a tendency toward the epic tradition when it comes to Valentine's. Y
et this year I didn't want a Homeric mission. I knew I was going to be out all day, and after all the chaos that the previous weeks had thrown I figured we'd want the food equivalent of a huge indulgent duvet. As a result I went with our favourite meal of the moment and made it the night before. I'd say it's nothing special, as we have it almost once a week, except it is special. Somehow, through some frying and some baking, a simple dish of aubergines, tomatoes and cheese becomes something far far grander than the individual ingredients. It sits happily as a starter, and yet we prefer to completely indulge and eat platefuls as a main, with the sauces slopped up with bread.

Considering I am someone who supposedly didn't like aubergines, th
is dish is a revelation, and proves that if you prepare them well, and treat them right they can become something that I would be desperate to have as my last meal.

Beware, it does take a little time to prepare. It's one to make in advance. It also tastes even better on the second day, especially made into a sandwich with any remaining focaccia. It took me a little while to get this recipe totally right, but I do now feel like it's ready to share.

Sorry about the slightly ad-hoc nature of the recipe and instructions, it's take from an email, as that's the only time I've ever written it down. I've added (what I hope are) some helpful photos

Aubergine Parmigiana - Serves four as a main just with bread, or more with salad

You'll need a 9" pie dish or something similar.

4 aubergines (sliced lengthways in thin slices - not sure how thin, I
just try for as thins as I can without a mandolin, although I know
that probably doesn't help. Also, I don't really worry about some
being thicker as you can deal with that when you fry them)
2x tins chopped tomatoes
small onion
dash of basil (I use dried in winter, fresh in summer)
olive oil (er, lots? have the bottle on hand)
Parmesan (also lots, I think I use 150g) grated finely.
salt and pepper

Righty, so you slice your aubergines and place layers of them in a
colander, sprinkling them with salt as you go. Then put a plate over
them and weight it down to get all the juice out (this is absolutely vital)
I leave them for as long as I can, probably 20-30 mins.

While they are draining knock up a quick tomato sauce. Chop the onion
into small pieces and fry in a medium saucepan in a bit of oil. When
glossy and soft add the basil and then dump in the tomatoes (and a
dash of wine if you fancy it) leave to simmer until a bit thicker, but
don't let too much evaporate.

Drain the aubergines and then dry them thoroughly. I do this with a
special tea towel or kitchen roll trying to get as much liquid out as
possible. Heat a frying pan and have a ramekin of olive oil and a
pastry brush to hand. Brush oil on one side of the aubergine slice and
fry oil side down (four or five at a time) in the dry pan. You want
them to be just about to turn browny black (you'll know what I mean
when you see it, and some charred bit are no problem, I even like
them! - see photo, where I got a bit distracted dashing for the camera and got a little over-charred, you want them a bit less brown than this),
brush the side up with oil and flip them over.Remove from the pan when done and start the next batch. This can take a while!
You can cook the thicker slices for longer at this stage to even it up a bit.

Okay, now you're ready to assemble: Get your pie dish. Place about a
third of the tomato sauce in the bottom:
cover with a layer of aubergine,and then sprinkle with a third of the Parmesan. Then repeat. You want
it so you have about three layers, (although depending on the
aubergines I sometimes get four) I think this number make it just
right. You want to finish with a layer of aubergine topped with

Don't worry about thinking there isn't enough tomato sauce in there,
and that it might be too dry. It will prove you wrong every time!

I cook mine the day before often and then re-cook the night we want to
eat it as the flavours develop really well. I also like the top of
mine to go really dark, almost charred, as I love the flavour!

Place in a 190C oven and cook for about 40-45 mins, until the cheese
has melted and going brown at the edges and it's bubbling slightly.

Try and hold out not plunging a fork in immediately, it'll be so hot!

Serve with lots of bread and be smug!


Rosy said...

This is SOOOOOOO good. Thank you!! I was a sworn hater of aubergines until this recipe!!! And thank you for posting the pictures - I have now realised the honking great mistakes I made when I cooked this!! Hmmm, when to make it again to perfect my technique??! x

green ink said...

One of my favourites too! When I went to Italy last year, I went on a wine tasting and they paired a red with melanzane parmagiana, so I knew I had to replicate it when I acquired a delicious Italian red from the neighbourhood deli last week. So good!